Associated Press

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #18: MLB adopts “The Chase Utley Rule”

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In most cases, the difference between a runner being out and being safe is a simple matter of timing: if the ball or the tag beats you to the bag, you’re out. If you beat the ball or the tag, you’re safe.

At second base, however, runners have always had the option of resorting to physical force in order to make up for poor timing by slamming into, undercutting or otherwise interfering with the infielder. Indeed, physically taking out the shortstop or second baseman in such a situation is considered sound fundamental play in this otherwise violence-free sport.

Or at least it was until Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS. That’s when Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers slid into second base in an effort to break up a double play. In doing so he broke the leg of Mets infielder Ruben Tejada. It was a hard slide, to some a dirty slide, but one not unlike which players had been executing since the advent of the game.

As Buster Posey fans can tell you, however, when a high profile player is injured or, as with Tejada’s leg, an injury occurs in a high profile situation, the blowback is a lot bigger than it would be if the injury happened to Joe Schmo or in a nationally televised game during the playoffs. That gets people talking and when people get talking Major League Baseball, as it so often does, reacts. As a result of the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play, baseball reacted by changing the rules related to slides at second base.

The new rule, announced in February, is Rule 6.01, but was called “The Chase Utley Rule” by many. It requires that runners try to make a “bona fide slide” instead of a takeout slide. Specifically, runners are to slide prior to reaching the base, rather than slamming into an infielder in a manner that almost, but not entirely, fails to resemble a slide. Even when sliding, the runner is now required to slide so that he is able to reach or touch the base or at least be able to make a plausible attempt to do so, rather than sliding several feet to the left or right of the bag in the direction of the infielder. Finally the runner is not allowed to change his pathway to the base.

There was some grumbling about the rule at first, with many baserunners and baseball purists lamenting the end of a hard nosed tradition. Even some infielders, who were the ones being protected by the rule, lamented it a bit, talking wistfully about how learning which runners were likely to kill you and learning how to not be killed by them was a part of the infielder’s craft. In practice, the new rule made an ignominious debut when it was invoked twice in the season’s first week, once against Jose Bautista and once against Colby Rasmus, both of which resulted in game-ending plays as opposed to ongoing rallies.

As is the case with most things, however, the furor soon calmed down. Mostly because players learned to live with the new rule and stopped trying to kill infielders. Partially, I suspect, because umpires loosened their standards for what was and was not a “bona fide slide” as the season progressed. It happens with a lot of new rules.

Indeed, a lot of new rules eventually become a lot like a lot of old rules: on the books but unenforced. Sort of like Rule 6.05(m), which had long been on the books when the new slide rule was adopted. You may not know much about that one, though, as it prohibited base runners from interfering with fielders who were trying to make plays. It hadn’t been enforced for ages.

 

Dodgers, Cubs could be interested in Justin Verlander

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Jon Morosi of MLB Network said yesterday that the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs have been engaged in trade talks involving starting pitcher Justin Verlander and catcher Alex Avila. Morosi also noted that the Los Angeles Dodgers have shown interest in Verlander as well. Whether this is idyl chitchatting of serious dispute is unclear, of course. Everything is unclear in the leadup to the deadline.

The veteran right-hander is carrying a 4.50 with a 120/57 K/BB ratio over 124 innings. Verlander impressed last year, finishing second in AL Cy Young Award balloting, but he has fallen back to Earth in 2017. His velocity remains high, however, and it’s not hard to imagine him going on a solid run in a way that could help a contender. He is owed $56 million over the next two seasons, however, and has a $22 million option that could vest for 2020, so negotiations for him could be tough. If the Tigers want talent back, they’ll have to eat salary.

Verlander got an ovation from a Detroit crowd last night which seemed to sense that, yes, it’s possible he pitched his last game for the Tigers. Given that he has 10/5 rights, allowing him to veto any trade, that decision is ultimately up to him. It’s not hard to imagine him accepting a trade to a contender, however.

We wait see.

A 30-year-old rookie won his major league debut

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The Dodgers beat the Twins last night thanks to a Cody Bellinger three-run homer. But Bellinger was not the only Dodgers rookie who had a notable game. A far more unconventional one is worth mentioning as well.

That rookie is reliever Edward Paredes, who made his big league debut last night. What makes him unconventional: he’s 30. Turns 31 in September, actually. Paredes pitched professionally for 12 years before making it to The Show. Most of that time was in the affiliated minors in the Mariners, Indians, Angels and Dodgers organizations. He spent time in the independent Atlantic League in 2013-15 as well.

Paredes did not do anything heroic last night. It was more of a right place/right time kind of appearance, retiring the side in order with a fly out, line out and a ground out and remaining the pitcher of record while Bellinger hit that three-run homer. That’s enough for a W, though. A W that Paredes waited a lot longer for than most pitchers who notch one in the bigs.